He founded the country's first LGBT rights group—now Amir Ashour is planning his political careerby Serena Kutchinsky / November 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
“Help me prove that ISIS and other extremists don’t represent all Muslims, and that many Muslims actively promote peace and equality.” The sentiments of many in the wake of the brutal terror attacks in Paris and Beirut, but the words of one young man, Amir Ashour, who is determined to turn rhetoric into reality. Ashour is the founder of IraQueer—Iraq’s first, and only, LGBT organisation that provides support and legal advice to this hounded community. But his ambitions stretch further—he is determined to become his country’s first openly gay Prime Minister.
Ashour’s interest in gay rights activism was sparked at university in Iraq. After graduating he worked for several US-based human and gay rights charities, but always aspired to start his own movement focused specifically on the problems within Iraq. He first took on the role of spokesperson for his country’s beleaguered LGBT community at last year’s One Young World Summit—an annual gathering of intimidatingly brilliant “future leaders” in politics, business and human rights. A clip of his speech was played at the start of this year’s summit in Bangkok, which welcomed 1,500 representatives from 196 countries, where his words highlighted the need now more than ever for young people to fight back against the hate and fear unleashed by IS and other extremists.
Iraq was a difficult place to be gay even before Islamic State began waging war on homosexuals by hurling them off buildings or stoning them to death. Although same sex relationships are decriminalized, they are still considered taboo by the majority of the population. The gay community has been forced even further underground since the fall of Saddam in 2003, with discrimination, honour killings and murderous attacks increasing according to a report by the BBC among others. In 2012, an investigation by the government of the Netherlands found that LGBT Iraqis faced “serious risks” to their lives and safety and offered asylum to anyone seeking refuge. The situation has worsened even in the past two months, according to Ashour, who himself has received several death threats; “being gay in Iraq right now could literally kill you,” he said.
IraQueer is run from Sweden where Ashour now lives, although the rest of its members operate anonymously inside Iraq. He is now able…